A well-stocked warm weather pantry contains all the essentials you need to quickly create meals based on all of the fresh ingredients the summer months have to offer. It’s a great time to review your current pantry contents and get rid of any food that’s been hanging around longer than necessary. The intent behind a well-stocked summer pantry is the same as any other season; your goal should be to have plenty of simple ingredients, such as a grains, plain nonfat yogurt and fresh herbs, that can quickly and easily be used in conjunction with local produce to create satisfying dinners without another trip to the grocery store.
- If you’re a fan of grain salads, summer is a great time to experiment with some of the lesser known grains that are beginning to make regular appearances on grocery store shelves. Stock up on grains that will hold their shape in a salad for a couple of days and that pair well with fresh, summery ingredients. Bulgur, farro, millet, and freekeh are all healthy, versatile, and delicious additions to any summer pantry.
- Have a ready supply of fresh herbs at all times by growing your own, whether in an outdoor garden or indoors on a sunny window sill. Fresh basil, mint, oregano, and thyme are easy to grow and only require regular watering and direct sunlight to thrive. Don’t have the space to grow fresh herbs? Extend the shelf life of store-bought herbs by storing them in a jar or glass full of water; loosely tent the herbs with a plastic bag and secure with an elastic band around the base of the jar or water and store in the fridge. You’ll find that this storage method will keep your herbs fresh for upwards of a week.
- Stock up on pantry staples that can be used to build a simple cold noodle salad when you’re short on time and ingredients. Soba noodles, rice noodles, and even whole wheat spaghetti can be used as the base of the salad and soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and chili oil can be combined in countless ways to produce an ultra-flavourful dressing. Use whatever fresh produce you have handy when it comes time to make the salad; cucumber, scallions, sweet and hot peppers, asparagus, sweet corn, and radish all work particularly well.
- Nonfat plain yogurt has near endless uses when paired with summery ingredients, both sweet and savoury. Drain the yogurt in cheesecloth to remove excess liquid (or use nonfat Greek yogurt) to make labneh, a Middle Eastern yogurt spread that only requires the addition of lemon juice, za’atar (a traditional Mediterranean spice blend that can be found in well-stocked grocery stores), olive oil, salt, pepper, and plenty of chopped fresh herbs. For a sweeter treat, cook fresh fruit (berries, stone fruit and rhubarb work well) in a small amount of fruit juice until it begins to break down and soften. Layer the fruit compote with nonfat plain yogurt and honey for an easy yet elegant breakfast or dessert.
- Use readily available fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables to make your own infused vinegars for use throughout the summer (and beyond!). The only ingredients required are white wine vinegar and the flavourings of your choice. Use your dishwasher or boiling water to sterilize a couple of large jars (try not to touch them as they’re cooling down) and fill with white wine vinegar, fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. Allow the flavoured vinegar to steep for at least three weeks in a cool, dark place. Strain the solid ingredients out of the vinegar and transfer to a freshly sterilized jar (along with a sprig or two fresh herbs). Experiment with different ingredient combinations or try some of these classic pairings: raspberry and thyme vinegar, lemon verbena and fennel or rosemary and orange vinegar.